Time has been and endless source of inspiration for artists of a speculative disposition: it’s the existential ball and chain, the sordid foil to eternity. A lover of philosophy who knows his way around mystical texts like the Bhagavad Gita, Hugo Ticciati is clearly well aware of these contemplative dimensions of time and has exercised them to interesting effect in the programming choices made as Artist in Residence for the Time Unwrapped series at Kings Place. In tonight’s concert, however, he and pianist Víkingur Ólafsson complemented this with a more pragmatic grasp of the notion of time and how it figures in modern lives: something which is “precious”, and which is also money. As is shown by recent vogues for “slow” TV and radio, there seems to be a genuine desire to move away from the accelerative momentum of our culture, and in slowing things down to a meditative pace, tonight’s performers pushed us to reflect on how the speed of our lives affects our listening.

Miyoko Shida Rigolo © Miyoko Shida Rigolo
Miyoko Shida Rigolo
© Miyoko Shida Rigolo

The first two works on the programme, for example, were drawn out to an almost languid pace, with the 1603 John Dowland song that gave tonight’s concert its name taken at such a tempo that would have made it very hard for it to be performed in its original form as a piece for lute and voice. Ticciati’s clean, almost vibrato-less violin drew out the vocal melody, eking out all the sadness he could. Similarly, Ólafsson took Satie’s pensive Gymnopédie no. 1 to a slow glide, accentuating its placidity, with Ticciati mirroring some of the right hand melodies with glistening tremolando playing. Such a reading made it easy to see why some claim Satie as the godfather of ambient music. But the first half of the concert wasn’t all shimmering serenity; after a brief, frenetic violin introduction from Ticciati, Ólafsson launched into a selection of Philip Glass’ Etudes, beginning with the rather muscular no. 3. Ólafsson has worked closely with the composer and, with last year’s recordings of these studies having received great acclaim, it was clear tonight that he has lived inside these works for some time, navigating the occasionally awkward rhythms and hand-cramping repetitions with aplomb and accentuating the frequent dynamic shifts.

Yet it was the performance that closed the first half of the concert that really gave one pause for thought. Going briefly off-stage, the two musicians returned with dancer Miyoko Shida Rigolo, the three walking slowly and almost ceremoniously to their positions. Shida Rigolo is a purveyor of the Sanddorn Balance, an act developed by Mädir Eugster Rigolo for a 1996 play called Sanddorn. It involves balancing a number of palm leaf ribs on top of each other, the performer slowly building a precariously interlocking, lattice-like structure. As Ticciati and Ólafsson set out the slow measures of Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, Shida Rigolo began her work, displaying great poise as she unhurriedly picked up each of the components with her hands and feet. The Pärt piece is meditative in itself, the simple scalic movement of the violin bringing to mind a devotee engrossed in contemplation of an icon, and likewise I was completely rapt in Shida Rigolo’s absorbing construction work – half in wonder at her skilful balance and half in anxiety that the whole thing should collapse. Her interpretation of the Sanddorn Balance has been described as being particularly mystical, and the symbolism tonight indeed felt rich. She had begun with a white feather in her hand, and when the structure was complete the whole thing resembled a large bird skeleton, with the feather at its head. Toward the end of the piece, she let the whole thing fall to pieces, the branches crashing to the floor, yet she still held the feather aloft. Perhaps it represented the slow growth of the body over a lifetime, followed by its dissolution and the survival of the soul after death. At any rate, the crashing of the branches had broken the audience from its state of hypnosis, causing it to erupt into spontaneous applause.

The Sanddorn Balance act in Kings Place © Tugce Tez
The Sanddorn Balance act in Kings Place
© Tugce Tez

The second half of the concert mostly placed the two musicians in more vigorous settings, with Ticciati practically digging the pizzicatos in Webern’s Four Pieces from the body of his instrument, and Ólafsson attacking the Brahms' Third Piano Sonata with vim and vigour. Yet in a concert that was built around interrogating our relationship with time, John Cage’s still-vital 4’33” proved the most effective. Most music we listen to is intrinsically linked with rhythm, another measure of temporality. In the absence of music, we are left without a temporal tether. In the aural environment of Kings Place’s Hall One, with all its rustling, coughing and breathing, we were encouraged to listen, closely, and take our sweet time in doing so.